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Vale of Clwyd Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Vale of Clwyd


Parkland forms a distinctive visual and physical element of the historic landscape of The Vale of Clwyd, medium to small-sized areas of parkland, former parkland or land of parkland character being fairly widely distributed throughout the vale, at intervals of between about 1-3km. One or more areas of parkland occur in most of the character areas with the exception of the wetter ground along the major rivers and streams and the higher hill land along and towards the summit of the Clwydians. Most of the parkland is of fairly simple character and normally taking the form of flat or gently sloping pasture land, sometimes subdivided into a few large fields with post and wire fencing, the principal remnants of landscaping being large, isolated deciduous trees - generally oak, beech, chestnut, or lime with occasional plantations for screening or shelter.

A total of over 25 parkland landscapes can be identified in The Vale of Clwyd, mostly associated with the larger halls and farms, some of which have since been converted to schools or nursing homes or divided into flats. The parkland areas vary greatly in size, from between about 4-5ha at Garthgynan and Kilford, and 12-20ha in the case of Plās-newydd, Eyarth House, Plas Gwyn and Lleweni Hall, to between about 20-40ha at Pontruffydd Hall, Llanrhaeadr Hall, Plās Ashpool and Glan-y-wern. The largest is Castle Park just to the south of Ruthin, which is over 50ha in extent.

A number of the parks, including Bathafarn and Castle Park have their origin in the deer parks created following the establishment of the lordships of Denbigh and of Dyffryn Clwyd in the 13th and 14th centuries. Others were created as an adjunct to the private estates created by a number of major landowners during the course of the 14th to 16th centuries, as in the case of Lleweni. Most of the more visible aspects of the parkland in the vale belong to the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the tree planting at parks such as Plās-newydd, Llanrhaeadr Hall, and Plās Ashpool was undertaken. Other parks and large wooded gardens were created during the second half of the 19th-century, a period when lodges and entrance gates were added to many existing parks.

A number of the parkland areas lie in close proximity to each other, two of the character areas being defined on the juxtaposition of a number of different parkland areas - the Fron Yw character area on the basis of the parkland associated with Vron Yw hall and the grounds of the former Edwardian sanitorium at Llangwyfan, and the Plās Ashpool character area on the basis of the conjunction of the grounds of Plās Ffordd-ddwr, Glan-y-wern, Pentre-mawr, and Plās Ashpool itself, both of these character areas lying on the eastern side of the vale, to the north and east of Llandyrnog.

Several of the parkland areas are associated with or take advantage of associated woodland areas, as in the case of Eyarth House, west of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, or the partly ornamental woodland encircling Warren House in the Aberchwiler valley. Individual trees are sometimes of importance, as in the case of the group of sweet chestnuts at Bachymbyd, planted in the late 17th century by the three daughters of Sir William Salusbury, and still marked prominently as the Three Sisters on most modern editions of the Ordnance Survey.

Ancillary components of parkland landscapes comprise stone or brick roadside walls and railings, as at Plas y Dyffryn (formerly Claremont and Clwyd Hall School) and Brondyffryn School, entrances, lodges and drives, as at Glan-y-wern, Llwyn-ynn Hall, Eyarth Hall, and other more elaborate features such as the ha-ha at Plas-newydd, the avenue, iron railings, stone-revetted ditches and stone stile at Llanrhaeadr, and the gothic stone archway at Pontruffydd, or the former road and road-bridge across the Clywedog incorporated into the Castle Park, Ruthin. Field boundaries were occasionally altered to enhance the landscape, as in the case of the curving boundaries to the south of Bathafarn Hall.

A number of the more formal gardens form small but important historic landscape elements within the vale. These notably include the terraced garden, ornamental spring and pond of late 16th- to early 17th-century date onwards at Eyarth Hall, the late 16th- to 18th-century walled gardens at Bachymbyd, Garthgynan, both associated with bee boles, and at Plas-newydd and Llanrhaeadr Hall, the mid 19th-century gardens at Ruthin Castle and the 1930s rock gardens at Eyarth House.

Other types of ornamental landscape are to be found in the vale. Lady Bagot's Drive, a picturesque Edwardian carriage drive, now forming a footpath, alongside the wooded gorge of the Afon Clywedog, running eastwards from Rhyd-y-cilgwyn, near Rhewl, which was part of Lord Bagot's estate. Ffynnon Dyfnog, Llanrhaeadr-yng-nghinmeirch, is a similarly picturesque creation, probably of the early 18th century. The holy well, with stone-lined tank and formerly decorated by carved figures, is fed by a cascading spring and approached by a woodland path, beginning at the churchyard, which crosses several ornamental stone bridges.

Most of the parkland areas in the vale are extremely vulnerable to disappearance, their effect being almost wholly dependent on the survival of isolated and already mature trees and large expanses of flat unbroken grassland. Little new tree planting is evident, and some parkland areas shown on earlier editions of Ordnance Survey maps have either been lost or their impact severely reduced in recent years due to no more than the loss of a proportion of parkland trees. Many of the other important elements of the parkland landscapes in the vale are also vulnerable, such as boundary walls, lodges, gates and railings.

Aesthetic appreciation of the landscape of the The Vale of Clwyd has a long tradition stretching back to at least the late 16th century, the earliest descriptions, such as in the following verse by Michael Drayton, contrasting the lushness and fertility of the valley, its meadows and cornfields with the 'hills whose hoarie heads seeme in the clouds to dwell'.

The North-wind (calme become) forgets his Ire to wreake,
And the delicious Vale thus mildly doth bespeake;
Deere Cluyd, th'aboundant sweets, that from thy bosome flowe,
When with my active wings into the ayre I throwe,
Those Hills whose hoarie heads seeme in the clouds to dwell,
Of aged become young, enamor'd with the smell
Of th'odiferous flowers in thy most precious lap:
Within whose velvit leaves, when I my self enwrap,
Thy suffocate with sents; that (from my native kind)
I seeme some slowe perfume, and not the swiftest wind.
With joy, my Dyffren Cluyd, I see the bravely spred,
Survaying every part, from foote up to thy head;
Thy full and youthfull breasts, which in their meadowy pride,
Are brancht with rivery veines, Meander-like that glide.
I further note in thee, more excellent than these
(Were there a thing that more the amorous eye might please)
Thy plumpe and swelling wombe, whose mellowy gleabe doth beare
The yellow ripened sheafe, that bendeth with the eare.

Michael Drayton, The Poly-Olbion, 1598-1622

The proportion of unenclosed common land and probably also woodland were much greater than the present day, but by this it is probable that a considerable amount of enclosure, land improvement and drainage had taken place, as evident in the accounts, noted above, of improvement works carried out in the former medieval park at Bathafarn between the 1550s and 1590s. Similar aspects of the landscape are again evident from Edward Lhuyd in Camden's Britannia, published in 1722.

We are now come to the heart of the County, where nature, having remov'd the Mountains on all hands (to shew us what she could do in a rugged Country) hath spread out a most pleasant Vale; extended from south to north seventeen miles and about five in breadth. It lies open only to the Ocean, and to the clearing North-wind; being elsewhere guarded with high mountains, which (towards the east especially) are like battlements or turrets; for by admirable contrivance of nature, the tops of these mountains seem to resemble the turrets of walls. Among them, the highest is call'd Moel Enlhi [Foel Fenlli]: at the top whereof I observ'd a military fence or rampire, and a very clear Spring. This Vale is exceeding healthy, fruitful, and pleasant: the complexion of the Inhabitants is bright and cheerful; their heads of a sound constitution; their sight is very lively, and even their old age vigorous and lasting. The green Meadows, the Corn-fields, and the numerous Villages and Churches in this Vale, afford us the most pleasant prospect imaginable. The river Clwyd, from the very fountain-head runs through the midst of it, receiving on each side a great number of rivulets. And from hence it has been formerly call'd Ystrad Klwyd, i.e. the Vale of Cluid.'

Edward Lhuyd, Camden's Britannia, 1722

The 18th and early 19th centuries were very much the age of the topographical writer. Again, in Daniel Defoe's Tour published a few year's later, the emphasis is upon the contrast between the tamed and fertile farmland in the vale and the rugged and inhospitable hills which enclose it.

We have but little remarkable in the road from Conway to Hollywell, but crags and rocks all along the [north shore], till we come to Denbeigh town. This is the country town, and is a large populous place, which carries something in its countenance of its neighbourhood to England, but that which was most surprising, after such a tiresome and fatiguing journey, over the unhospitable mountains of Merioneth, and Carnarvonshire, was, that descending now from the hills, we came into a most pleasant, fruitful, populous, and delicious vale, full of villages and towns, the fields shining with corn, just ready for the reapers, the meadows green and flowery, and a fine river, with a mild and gentle river running through it; nor is it a small or casual intermission, but we had a prospect of the country open before us, for above 20 miles in length, and from 5 to 7 miles in breadth, all smiling with the same kind of complexion, which made us think our selves in England again, all on a sudden.

Daniel Defoe, A Tour through the whole Island of Great Britain, 1725

Towards the end of the 18th century, Thomas Pennant provides a similar description of the vale from the north-west of Llanrhaeadr

On an eminence to the north-west of the church, called Cader Gwladus . . . is an extremely beautiful view of the vale between Denbigh and Ruthin, and the whole breadth chequered with wood, meadows, and corn-fields; and almost the whole range of the eastern limits soaring far above it.

Pennant, A Tour in Wales, 1793

The publication of a number of works such as Gilpin's Essays on the Picturesque in 1792 were to have a considerable impact on the aesthetic value of landscape at this time. Wordworth, staying with friends at Llangynhafal on several occasions in the 1790s, describes it as lying in the 'most delicious of all Vales, the Vale of Clwyd'. For Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the antiquarian, at the beginning of the 19th century, the contrast was again between the richness of the vale with the surrounding countryside: 'after passing over another dreary common the beautiful Vale of Clwyd bursts unexpectedly on the. His main concerns were literally the picturesque or drawable view. Thus, Denbigh could be considered 'a rich picturesque scene, worthy [of] the pencil of Poussin', but the Vale of Clwyd itself proved to be less satisfactory in this respect.

With regard to its picturesque beauty I was rather disappointed. Its mountainous boundaries to the east are well formed and finely broken, but the Vale is in general too wide to furnish good subjects for the pencil. The views however which its different parts present are truly pleasing and the views from its heights are very grand.

Colt Hoare, 6 June 1801

Present-day appreciation of the landscape value of The Vale of Clwyd has a long tradition, one of its essential qualities still being the juxtaposition of the natural and artificial landscapes - the contrast between the 'meadows green and flowery' of the vale and the 'crags and rocks' of the surrounding hills.

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